Recent research indicates that there is an important, though complex, relationship between the social image of smoking and young people's self- and aspirational images. This study explored how young people see themselves (self-image), how they would like to be (ideal image), and whether these differ according to age, gender and smoking status. Focus groups were used to elicit attributes which young people use to describe smoking and non-smoking images taken from fashion pages in youth magazines. These attributes were incorporated into a self-completion questionnaire which was administered to 897 young people from three age groups (12-13 years, 15-16 years and 18-19 years). The respondents rated their self- and ideal images on each of these attributes. Overall, there were few differences between the rank order of attributes by age, sex or smoking status. However, there were differences in the trait scores, with males and smokers tending to rate themselves more positively. The two traits which most clearly differentiated smokers and non-smokers were druggy/takes drugs (self- and ideal image) and healthy (self-image). It appears that smokers in general, and male smokers in particular, embraced certain dimensions of self- and aspirational image of which druggy, tough and tarty are signifiers. In contrast, the differences between female smokers and non-smokers were less consistent and differed with age. The implications for health promotion are discussed. (C) 1997 Elsevier Science Ltd.
- young people